A few weeks ago, I received an email from Michael Williams inviting me down to Minnesota for a 3-day trip to visit the Red Wing factory. I immediately said yes to the opportunity then we were on our way to Minnesota.
We touched down in Minnesota a few days later and the great American trip began. It was a small group of us representing different media outlets, Complex Mag, Valet Mag, Standard Edition and of course ACL (A Continuous Lean).
We checked into the Ivy hotel and then hit the Northern Grade product show. The show was fantastic, displaying Made in America brands from all over the country. Red Wing happened to be one of the main sponsors, so we got a chance to see some early product.
The next day, we ate breakfast at the famous Al’s, which is a 14-seat diner with a wait time over an hour long. A few funny stories came out of that place and, oh yeah, it was worth the wait. After breakfast we went to visit a historic Mill City Museum, which I will talk about a bit later. After the museum trip we headed out to the small city of Red Wing, where the real trip began. We checked into the Red Wing hotel, which was awesome. Oh, and apparently, a bit haunted. We received a little RW box at check-in and then we took time to explore the city.
We were scheduled for a product presentation and meeting with Red Wing Heritage Director Dan Dahl & Sales Director Steve Spencer.
Our first stop was to the SB Foot Tannery, where all the magic of RW starts. The tannery was purchased by RW back in the ’80s and they’ve been operating out of there ever since.
Our visit to the SB Foot Tannery was exceptional. We learned so much about the brand and why the brand is by far one of the leading boot companies in the world. To think the entire operation is run on US soil is still pretty incredible.
They split the team up in two groups, after which we began to take in all this amazing information about the company and tannery. The Red Wing Shoe Co. was founded in 1905 and uses about 300,000 hides a year, which I think is remarkable. They use Mosconi shaving machines, some of the best in the world. The machines are made in Italy and are perfect for shaving the hides.
They walked us through the entire process, from the minute that the hides come through the door. We covered every detail that goes into the cleaning, shaving, washing, treatment, lubrication, dye, drying and storage. Part of the process involves a lubricant that strips the hide of its natural oils, upon which they inject oil back into it. This process makes 40% of the leather waterproof, key to preventing water from penetrating your boot in case of a scuff.
This tannery provides hides for some of the best companies in the world, like LL Bean, Danner and Wolverine. In addition to that, the tannery also provides combat boots for the armed forces. All of the boots go through rigorous testing to ensure that they’re producing the best possible product for their customers. We got to experience all the stages of testing, quite a sight to behold.
Our next stop was Red Wing Plant II. They gave a tour of the site and showed us where the product is actually manufactured. What a great experience! We saw the boots get assembled from A to Z. The entire process can only be described as magical. All handmade, hand-sewn by American factory workers, putting every ounce of love into each boot. When you purchase a RW product, you are buying 100% quality.
Afterwards, we headed out to the Red Wing Shoe Company HQ and were shown more products as well as a presentation. The day ended with a special trip to the Red Wing store, where we saw the biggest boot in the world. The boot is actually to scale and is size 638 ½. How crazy is that? The store also has a makeshift museum where you get to experience the history of Red Wing through imagery and products.
After all the tours we were surprised with a wonderful treat! We got to pick out any shoe we wanted from the shop. I had a hard time deciding between three different styles, so I settled on the Beckman Boot and ended buying a pair of Postman Oxfords.
Overall, it was a fantastic trip and I want to thank MW & Red Wing all the hospitality.